The Slow Rise of the Customer Experience Designer & Architect #CXDNow


The Slow Rise of the Customer Experience Designer & Architect aka, “Why Chris Heuer is focusing on CX and the role of Holistic Strategy”
In 1999, the full impact of the nascent digital revolution was just finally being realized. The vision of the future I first saw 5 years previously, when I launched my first “dotcom” and interactive agency, was starting to become reality. With a new baseline for the status quo, everyone was beginning to have visions of what might come next – mobile, interactive tv and ubiquitous networked computing. Through my position as the Chief of eBusiness at the United States Mint, I began to connect with the Fast Company community more deeply after being a reader from issue #2. It was then that I discovered “The Experience Economy” and began to really think differently about marketing and engagement.

At the time, filling the marketing funnel was focused on advertising, a bit about PR, and increasingly about being an interactive lean forward experience instead of a lean back media experience. I had some marketing experience, some ad sales experience and a lot of common sense, which was still considered unconventional wisdom by most. I had also learned of the power of “Virtual Community” from Howard Rheingold’s fantastic book that introduced me to the power of ‘social media’ in the form of human connection through computer mediated communications. All of these experiences and visions of our future coalesced that year when I was charged with the marketing and growth of numismatics through electronic channels. I thought, “how the heck can I grow the market for coin collecting?”

There were a few obvious things, like reaching out to children and those interested in history. I tried to develop communities on the various portals, but could never convince the marketing boss to let us try to partner with Lycos or Yahoo. In fact, I even failed to get an online advertising budget, even though we had Kermit the frog as our official ‘Spokesfrog’. The old guard was standing firm on this stuff, and it was my first real experience in trying (and failing) at corporate change management. We had some wins though, so it was a great experience overall, especially working with Michele Bartram who was (and still is) a pioneering leader who knew a bit more about how to play this silly game called office politics.

But for myself personally and professionally, it was a pivotal moment. In asking that question about how to grow the market, it lead me to thinking differently about the nature of the market itself. It’s when I developed what I then called the customer experience lifecycle, or what is now more commonly known as the customer journey. Not thinking about a particular segment, but thinking about how the whole world related to our products and the market as a whole.  Thinking about how we could change people’s behaviors in a positive way towards our offering and ultimately, buy more products and spread word of mouth. By figuring out what knowledge they needed to have and what experiences depending on the stage of the relationship, we could provide them value beyond the product and ensure that they were connected to more people like themselves. In so doing, we could develop loyalty and reinforce their interest in coin collecting to potentially maintain it as a life long hobby.

Customer Experience LIfecycle v.5

Simultaneously, we were seeing the rise of CRM, moving beyond list management and into the era of relationships. Unfortunately, as with most early movements, there was a lot more lip service to the idea of relationships, and early CRM was mostly focused on managing order history and tracking customer support. They spoke loftily of getting a 360 degree view of the customer, of combining Claritas demographic data to develop new insights that would feed the communications strategies and messaging content. All the while not realizing that fully embracing these principles would require that we provide customers a 360 degree view of the company first. Or as Patricia Seybold would say with Customers.com, “Provide your customers with all the information that they need to purchase and enjoy your products or services.” I knew then, as we all do now, that embracing such a concept would transform the market and society as a whole. To actually care about customers, what a concept!

So I started working on advancing a concept I called, “Holistic Business Strategy“, thinking more about the whole of the business then any of its siloed parts. Years later, I saw similar thinking in what Robert Scoble called “the contextualizers,” people who could put aspects of the business in context to develop greater understanding of both strategies and operations to improve the bottom line. But at the time, holistic was more closely associated with hippies, crystals and ayurveda than serious business. In fact, despite my article from 2011, “The Time has come for Holistic Business Strategy,” the time has still not come – at least not fully. Instead, the concept has arisen in the form of Customer Experience, Journey Mapping and Design Thinking using an ‘outside in’ approach. Same thinking, same impetus, similar executions, different language.

While my concept of the customer experience lifecycle was not leveraged by the US Mint in the way that I had hoped, I was able to convince the COO of Palm, Alan Kessler, when we were both speaking at PC Expo in 2000. That lead to a multi-year relationship with Palm, where I worked with a stellar web team, the majority of whom I still stay in contact with today. During that time I became friends and worked closely with Rick Wootten, who had a similar understanding of a modern approach to marketing and a similar desire to get beyond interruption based advertising. We saw greater power in the development of content that would help people move along their journeys and build closer relationships with the company and its products.

After a long courtship, I secured a contract to not only help Palm build a platform for the Palm Economy, but to also develop a next generation content management system that would in essence be driven by the strategic principles inherent in what I had then come to call “The Customer Strategy.”

This is why I was excited to see a demo of the future looking Customer Journey Designer product from IBM back in May 2015, at the IBM Amplify conference in San Diego where I was invited as a #NewWayToEngage influencer. To see the vision of a journey mapping product that not only served the purpose of enabling people from across a company to better collaborate in service of their customers needs, but also to serve as a dashboard to monitor execution and optimize spending in near real time. It was, as Olivier Blanchard wrote “the marketing management solution we have all dreamed of.”

Naturally, I was beyond excited and sought to learn more. It is then that I discovered that the product was still in development and hopefully would begin with availability in the fall. So when the influencer program managers reached out to me to meet with the product management team in early September, I jumped at the chance. For all the conference invites and travel IBM provides through the program, the main compensation is the access and the extra promotion of my independent work and words. Given that they were going to pay me for a few hours of consulting to share some of these experiences and insights I have developed over the past 16 years, I was particularly excited. Not only to see something I have been thinking about come to life, but to in some small way contribute to it, to be a part of it. Well, that’s just cool.

It was then that I saw the first demo of the Journey Designer product, which is now available for free to everyone, and had a chance to discuss the vision for the product strategy and road map with Doug Foulds and his team. As he told me during that call, “we have humble beginnings in front of us, and are looking for practitioners to go on this journey with us.” This reinforced what I’ve come to learn over the last several years through my relationship and interactions with them, this isn’t your father’s IBM. The nature of business is fundamentally transforming to a broader appreciation for the true nature of the ecosystem in which it operates and an understanding of the symbiotic relationship between companies, employees, customers, partners, and even competitors.

After that call, I huddled with some of the #NewWayToWork team and we discussed possible ways I might be able to work with them beyond simple advisory calls. Amy Tennison of IBM and Courtney Smith Kramer of PureMatter are not only smart people who I respect, they have also become good friends over the past couple of years through which I have been engaged in the program. So when Courtney suggested there might be sponsorship dollars available to more deeply explore this topic and share my insights with everyone through my blog, I realized that the time had come to actually share some of this story and to help ‘advance the field’ more broadly.

As with social media 10 years ago, I see Customer Experience Design as having it’s zeitgeist moment. Not only is this new Journey Designer product from IBM being released now, but my dear friend and colleague Brian Solis is launching his new book, “X – The Experience When Business Meets Design.” So as we went on the journey together to expand the proper use of social media by people around the world, so to are we serving to empower this next wave of business transformation with insights and inspiration. As I said to Courtney, “the time for Customer Experience Design is NOW!”. This is how I landed on the show being called #CXDNow.

Personally I am incredibly optimistic about where are going with this latest advancement to market engagement. Where it starts today with the IBM Journey Designer is as a simple design tool that enables people from across the company and their agencies to collaborate in real time on the development of a customer journey map. To lay out all the different phases of the customer journey and all the different touch points, campaigns and experiences that any customer might have across an omni-channel landscape. While it sounds simple, as you may have heard in my conversation with Brian Solis yesterday, the coordination of these activities requires a certain type of collaborative culture, and is often only happening in companies who have already undergone a digital transformation or modernized their culture for our current market. Although I can’t reveal where it goes from here due to the NDA I have signed with them, I can tell you that I hope to be a part of that journey in many ways, not only as a creator of sponsored media or a member of their influencer program, but as a user and perhaps one day, more.

Over the course of the next six weeks with #CXDNow, we will cover the gamut of topics that you need to know in order to leverage the power of Customer Experience Design. From the basics to the future. Together we will not only cover educational material, but we will also see how the principles are put into practice as I seek the advice of leading practitioners who we have invited as guests. Beginning on Wednesday at noon PST with an interview of IBM Journey Designer Product Manager Doug Foulds, we will more closely examine the current need for their product and understand the broader benefits of journey mapping for your customer experience.

This is an exciting time. For me, it’s been 16 years in the making. Not only do we have all the amazing insights Brian Solis has packed into his Book “X,” and the lessons learned from the IBM Journey Designer team, but by using Blab to record our shows, I will also have the opportunity to share more of the work I have been doing and have yet to publish. Perhaps more importantly, we will also get a chance to learn from you, so that we may accelerate and amplify the rise of the customer experience designer and architect for our mutual benefit, together. In so doing, we have a chance to go beyond paying lip service to customer centricity, and finally embrace what I call “radical customer empathy.”

Join us, with #CXDNow.

Disclosure: While IBM is sponsoring the #CXDNow series, the contents and opinions are purely my own. As a #NewWayToEngage and #NewWayToWork Futurist, IBM includes me in events like the upcoming #NWTW Tour and the #TEDatIBM event, amplifying my independent comments without directly influencing what I say in any way.

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